Big Brown fights with his jockey, Kent Desormeaux, in the stretch before he crosses the finish line last in the 140th Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y. on Saturday, June 7, 2008.
Image: Chang W. Lee, NYTimes.
Big Brown was the favorite to win to today’s Belmont Stakes, the 140th time this classic race has been run. Big Brown started from the far inside post position and ran against eight rivals in the 1.5 mile (2.41 kilometers) race, often referred to as the “Test of a Champion.” The record for this race, 2:24, was set by the mighty Secretariat when he won the Triple Crown in 1973.
[images and race video included below the fold]
The undefeated Big Brown, who never ran better than third in today’s Belmont Stakes, made history by becoming the first Triple Crown hopeful to finish dead last in the Belmont Stakes. In fact, Big Brown’s losing margin was so great that no one bothered to record exactly what it was. What happened?
The race started off innocuously enough. Big Brown loaded calmly into the gate and broke well at the bell. But the trouble began early when he was apparently kicked by a horse running in front of him before entering the first turn. Even though it is not unusual for a horse to be kicked during the running of a race, did it negatively affect Big Brown? Or perhaps the freakish heat and humidity harmed his performance?
“It was hot as hell out there,” complained Kent Desormeaux, Big Brown’s regular jockey. When Desormeaux asked Big Brown for his typical explosive run on the backstretch, the horse, who was in third place, didn’t respond, despite having a clear path. Big Brown’s competitive edge disappeared.
“He was empty. He didn’t have anything left,” Desormeaux later reported. “I had no horse. He’s the best horse I’ve ever been on so I took care of him.”
Deciding that Big Brown was in some form of distress and would not finish in the money anyway, Desormeaux eased him up in the backstretch, ending up finishing dead last to 38-1 long shot, Da’ Tara ($79, $28 and $14.80), a Tiznow colt trained by Nick Zito. Da’ Tara, who led wire-to-wire, won by 5 1/4 lengths in a truly unimpressive time of 2:29.65, with Denis of Cork ($5.80 and $4.10) in second place and Anak Nakal ($7.60) and Ready’s Echo ($6.20) finishing in a dead heat for third. Interestingly, Zito also trained Anak Nakal. But even Zito was concerned about Big Brown’s astonishingly poor performance.
“I was watching Big Brown,” remarked Zito. “Obviously, he wasn’t Big Brown.”
Tired, but victorious. Jockey Alan Garcia, atop Da’Tara, loks back at the field after crossing the finish line during the 140th running of the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park.
Unfortunately, as he slowed down, Big Brown injured another horse in the race. When Desormeaux eased him up, his horse wobbled into a competitor, Tale of Ekati, injuring that colt by stepping on Ekati’s right hind heel and cutting it badly.
But Big Brown was not obviously hurt himself. Track veterinarian, Larry Bramlage, said that an early post-race examination indicated that the horse did not sustain an injury — a concern to everyone who watched in horror as Eight Belles collapsed and died on the racetrack a few short weeks ago.
“He looked fine during the race,” Bramlage said. “All I saw was when Desormeaux slowed him down. The veterinarian inspection team did not find anything wrong with him and he was not lame.”
So what happened to Big Brown? He is not obviously injured (although who knows what a more thorough examination might reveal in the next few days), but he also was clearly not himself today. Was it the heat and humidity? Did the lasix (to prevent him from bleeding) with cause him to become too dehydrated to run? Or maybe it was the lack of his monthly steroid injection? Or the repaired quarter crack in his left hoof? Perhaps it was the threeday break from training while his hoof injury was repaired? All of these factors, or some combination of them? None of these factors?
I am surprised that Big Brown did not win the Belmont, but I also have said several times that Big Brown is NOT a great horse, that he is simply the best of a very poor group of horses. This sad performance strongly reinforces my opinion.
What did you all say would happen to Big Brown in today’s Belmont Stakes?
Watch Big Brown’s astonishing Belmont Stakes loss [2:44];